It may come as a surprise to many people, but physical therapy has been growing as a profession for nearly a century. As a student in this field, I have been asked on countless occasions what a physical therapist does or how it differs from other forms of therapy.

A physical therapist is a leader in the rehabilitation services that can help treat and manage an injury, disease or even a chronic illness. Through interventions, individuals are better able to return to more functional and productive lives following therapy. What many people don’t realize is that these exercise enthusiasts can also be beneficial in prevention of many health problems. Let’s look at a couple different scenarios.

A 45-year-old, overweight individual goes to see their primary-care physician complaining of joint pain at the knee. An MRI is taken, and results show mild to moderate degenerative arthritis and his/her doctor recommends seeing an orthopedic surgeon to talk about a joint replacement.

One thing leads to another and, six months later, this person is walking into a physical therapy clinic for rehabilitation after a total knee replacement. For those of you who don’t know about joint replacement, it’s a lengthy and often painful process to regain full functional mobility and strength of the limb that underwent surgery.

My goal is not to deter a person from pursuing a joint replacement. Rather, I want to tell you that this type of procedure, or any surgery for that matter, is not one you’d want to have done without careful consideration, especially at the age of 45. So although a physical therapist is capable of treating an individual with a total knee replacement, there are also ways in which they can prevent having surgery altogether.

A PT could provide an exercise regimen and nutrition ideas in order to help him/her lose weight. They could also help to fix abnormal mechanics of walking that are increasing the degeneration of articular cartilage (the tissue that helps protect our joints) by strengthening, stretching muscles and educating the patient.

The shoulder is another joint that can be problematic. Through time, humans were fortunate to have developed into bipedal mammals. Thus, we are able to walk on two feet and use our arms to do many tasks. Unfortunately, this advanced capability of our arms comes with an increased risk of injury, particularly due to overuse.

The shoulder is responsible for moving our arm. As you can imagine, if our shoulder causes us pain or doesn’t operate as it should, it can feel extremely debilitating. People want to be able to reach into their kitchen cabinets, pick up their newborn child, throw a baseball, or open their car door, particularly without pain.

Poor posture can play a key role in these problematic conditions. Our bodies were designed to be in a particular position to allow adequate movement and efficiency. When we alter our normal position, our bones, ligaments and musculature can change.

In a slouched shoulder posture, our chest muscles get tight, upper back muscles get weak and the space which our nerves, vessels and muscles run through to supply or move our arm gets smaller. This could result in further weakness, numbness in the arm or hand or a tearing of a muscle.

Now you know why your parents always told you to sit up straight! Physical therapists have the ability to fix a number of problems that are experienced at the shoulder and inform you about poor posture and how to correct it.

Our bodies are made up of hundreds of bones, muscles and joints that we often isolate from one another in order to better classify pain. However, our body should be looked at as a whole rather than in separation. Let’s think of it as a tower of Jenga blocks.

If we take a piece or two out, it immediately loses its maximum stability. As we continue to add stress to the tower by taking away from the bottom and adding to the top, it further changes the dynamics.

In our body, the removal of the blocks include the stress fracture of a bone, weakness of a muscle or increased stretch upon a ligament. All of those alterations will change the dynamic of our tower (body).

The adding of blocks on top of the tower are the stresses we place upon our body, whether that is gravity, poor posture or lifting a box off the floor incorrectly. Over time, the tower gets weaker, and eventually it comes piling down on the table. That’s when we end up breaking our bones or tearing a muscle or ligament.

If you want to keep your body from tumbling over (maybe literally), seeking out help from a physical therapist has the possibility of being advantageous for many individuals. We want to help you get back to a pain-free life.